Fight Rising Threats with a Master’s in Computer Science

Every year the number of nation states, large oranizations and individuals affected by cyber crime grows. For some, this might be as minor as an online service they like slowing down or being made unavailable for a few hours. For others, snippets of their identity will be auctioned off to the highest bidder (sometimes with dramatic consequences). Others may have their computer or phone’s resources siphoned while their devices slow to a crawl, or their files encrypted until they pay a ransom. While some will be directly targeted, potentially with threats or material harm. Either way, we’re moving into a new digital realm where almost everyone’s life is affected by cyber security. And one of the most crucial barriers between you, as a business owner, or consumer, or just everyday joe, is engineering or software products and information systems with security in mind.

Why Get a Master’s in Computer Science

Of course, coupled with these cyber security concerns is a significant increase in computer science, IT, and cyber security employment. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer and information technology jobs will grow 12% through 2024, equaling about 500,000 openings. (The average rate is half that.) In short, there is a massive demand for computer science professionals, especially upper-level, highly skilled CS workers who understand cyber security and information assurance. Currently there are over 1.5 million information assurance and cyber security job openings. While there are other degrees that focus entirely on security concerns, a master’s in computer science can be a great route towards obtaining a leadership position in the engineering team of a cyber security organization. As we’ll cover below, there are a number of ways to tailor your computer science degree to make it particularly suitable for working in information assurance.

If that criteria already fits your resume, congrats: you’re on the right track. Otherwise, if you’ve earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a computer science-related area, or if you’re currently an entry or mid-level CS professional, you might want to pursue a master’s in computer science to hone technical skills, specialize in a particular CS discipline, and develop in-demand soft skills for upper-level roles. One final bonus to gaining a degree in computer science is that it’s versatile. While it’s a great degree to gain so as to move into an information assurance role, it can be used in almost every other industry that utilizes computing also.

Master’s in Computer Science vs. Related Degrees

Confused about the number of master’s degrees in computer science and computer science-related fields? A brief breakdown:

  • Computer Science: a broad-based degree with emphases on high-level computing, cyber security programming, software engineering and architecture, and other advanced technical skills
  • Cyber Security: a specialized, increasingly popular degree that ranges from high-tech course work to interdisciplinary studies in forensics, psychology, and business
  • Information Technology: a less technical master’s that focuses on business, ethical, and strategic aspects of IT, including concentrations and specializations
  • Computer Engineering: emphasizes hardware and software infrastructure, plus reverse engineering, intellectual property protection, operating systems, and digital forensics
  • Information Assurance: combines technical and managerial skills with a multidisciplinary curriculum

So what’s the advantage of a master’s in computer science? First, computer science is the most established, applicable degree in the industry: no matter what direction your career takes, a master’s in computer science generally gives you one of the most solid technical and high-level computing understandings of related degrees. Second, it’s flexible enough to allow students to concentrate in a specific area of professional interest. If you’re looking for a tried-and-true degree that’s also customizable, the MSCS is your best bet.

Master’s in Computer Science: Curriculum

No MS in Computer Science is the same, though generally the degree consists of 30-45 credits. Many also offer integrated electives, course clusters, and options for theses and individual research projects. A typical course progression might look like:

  • Operating Systems and Systems Programming
  • Compiler Construction
  • Intro to Databases
  • Intro to Computer Graphics and Imaging
  • Intro to Automata and Complexity Theory
  • Computer and Network Security
  • Logic and Automated Reasoning
  • Design and Analysis of Algorithms
  • Mathematical Methods for Robotics, Vision, & Graphics
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Introduction to Robotics
  • Natural Language Processing with Deep Learning
  • Probabilistic Graphical Models
  • Machine Learning
  • Distributed Systems
  • Database Systems
  • Intro to Cryptography

Master’s in Computer Science: Specializations

Master’s in Computer Science also tend to include specialization and concentration options like the following. Specializations including cyber security, information assurance, software engineering, machine learning, and modeling and simulations are all particularly suited to future cyber security employment.

  • Cyber Security
  • Software Engineering
  • Information Assurance
  • Cloud Computing
  • Computational Perception and Robotics
  • Computer Graphics
  • Computing Systems
  • High Performance Computing
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Interactive Intelligence
  • Machine Learning
  • Modeling and Simulations
  • Scientific Computing
  • Social Computing
  • Visual Analytics

Master’s in Computer Science: Careers

A few possible cyber security-related careers for professionals with a master’s in computer science:

  • Computer and Information Research Scientist: a tech-focused, non-managerial position in charge of creation and design of new approaches to computing technologies, and development of innovative uses for pre-existing tech. A cross-industry
    role, professionals can be found in business, healthcare, science, or in academia.

    • Median Salary: $111,840
    • Job Outlook, 2014-24: 11%
  • Security Architect: a mid- to senior-level information assurance role that builds, implements, and manages secure networks and computer systems. In most companies,
    this is the highest role in cyber security on the tech side. Soft-skills include “big picture” strategy development, project and team management, and training and mentoring junior team members.

    • Median Salary: $98,430
    • Job Outlook, 2014-24: 13%
  • Security Software Developer: another mid- to senior-level position that designs, develops, and integrates security at every level of software development.
    In addition to managing malware detectors, spyware, and intrusion detectors, security software developers design forensic tools, build prototypes and beta tests, and manage junior team members.

    • Median Salary: $98,430
    • Job Outlook, 2014-24: 13%
  • Computer Network Architect: reserved for experienced professionals (5+ years), CNAs design and build data communication networks like local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), and intranets. Also called network engineers,
    additional responsibilities include hardware and software management, information security monitoring, and research new networking technologies for future implementation.

    • Median Salary: $101,210
    • Job Outlook, 2014-24: 9%